One Application, Three Transportation Grants

By:

  • Brittney D. Kohler

The message from cities to the federal government was clearly received – we can and should make it easier for cities and towns to apply for transportation grants with the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. At the Congressional Cities Conference, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Buttigieg teased that we should stay tuned for news on how they want to make it easier. USDOT just announced a combined application process for three major grant opportunities in a single, common application:

  1. National Infrastructure Project Assistance grants program (called the Mega Grants program): $1 billion in FY2022 funding.
  2. Nationally Significant Multimodal Freight and Highways Projects grants program (called the INFRA program): with $1.55 billion in FY2022 funding.
  3. Rural Surface Transportation Grant program (called the Rural program): with $300 million in FY2022 funding.

This combined opportunity for $2.9 billion is known as the Multimodal Project Discretionary Grant (MPDG) opportunity. It is a concrete step to ease the application burdens for cities of all sizes and receive the best project applications across the infrastructure spectrum in all areas of the country for two new programs and one reauthorized program. While they remain separate programs for the purposes of award, the programs share many common characteristics, including larger project size, multimodal eligibility, and many shared statutory project requirements. Because of these shared characteristics, it is possible for many projects to be eligible and considered for multiple programs using a single application.

Focus of Programs

  • New Mega program: Focused on large multimodal transportation projects, with 50% of the funding being awarded to projects greater than $500 million in total project cost, and the remaining 50% of the funding being awarded to projects between $100 million and $500 million in total project costs. The Mega program will help large multimodal projects with gaps in their financial plans. Requirements for selection for this program include national or regional economic, mobility or safety benefits among others.
  • The INFRA program: At least 15% of the funds are reserved for small projects (<$100 million) and at least 25% of the funds are reserved for rural projects. The program also includes a leverage pilot, under which $150 million is set-aside to prioritize for projects with greater non-Federal share.
  • New Rural program: Reserved for surface transportation projects in rural areas, with a minimum of 90% of all projects having a minimum $25 million Rural grant award. Note that the rural is defined in this program as an area that is outside an urbanized area with a population of over 200,000. The Rural program will focus on these community needs, such as improving highway safety and expanding access to rural transit service.  Set asides for projects on the Appalachian Development Highway System and projects located in states with above average rural lane departure fatality rates are also included.

Key City Considerations

  • Consider Eligibility and Partnership: City municipal governments are considered “political subdivisions of the state” in federal legislation, and cities are eligible both individually or in partnership group with several other eligible partners including metropolitan planning organizations, states, a special purpose district and many others. Consider if the listed eligible partners or group of partners could add value and support to your application.
  • Note the Wide Rural Definition: In this new Rural program, “rural” is defined as an area that is outside an urbanized area with a population of over 200,000. This category may be particularly competitive for small cities and includes opportunities to partner with several communities to meet the project minimums. Review the urbanized area designations here.
  • Bundling Remains Welcome and Strategic: If your infrastructure challenge is shared across your region or state, there may be opportunities to consider the benefits of bundling projects into a single application. In the past, USDOT has received applications that bundles multiple bridge projects into a cohesive whole showcasing the possibilities of regional, corridor, or broader gains that can be made. Assets do not necessarily have to be geographically connected. Remember too that many modes are also welcome within an application (such as transit and highway).

Application Process

While the MPDG Opportunity consists of three separate programs, DOT will evaluate common applications for the programs using common merit criteria and considerations to provide a more streamlined and efficient application process for project sponsors. The common set of criteria include: 

  • Safety
  • State of good repair
  • Economic impacts
  • Freight movement
  • Job creation
  • Climate change
  • Resiliency
  • Environment
  • Equity
  • Multimodal Options
  • Quality of life
  • Innovation

Additional considerations include:

  • Cost effectiveness
  • Demonstrated project readiness, which includes technical assessment, financial completeness, and environmental review and permitting risk
  • Geographic diversity among recipients, including a balance between the needs of urban and rural projects

Find Out More

The MPDG NOFO is posted on www.grants.gov and here. The application deadline is Monday, May 23, 2022.

The Department has published a Guide to Benefit Cost Analysis, FAQs, and will be hosting several webinars. Click here for more information and to register for an upcoming webinar.

Additional questions can be directed to MPDGrants@dot.gov

About the Author

Brittney D. Kohler

About the Author

Brittney Kohler is the Legislative Director for Transportation and Infrastructure on NLC’s Federal Advocacy team.